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Pembroke passes $8.5 million town budget, keno too

  • The Pembroke town hall is shown on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Lola Duffort—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke residents line up to vote via secret ballot on whether or not to allow Keno in town during Town Meeting at Pembroke Academy on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Lola Duffort—Monitor staff

  • Pembroke town moderator Thomas Petit instructs the crowd at the school district meeting on the use of the yellow card for voting Saturday at Pembroke academy. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file



Monitor staff
Monday, March 19, 2018

Last week’s school district meeting in Pembroke saw record turnout and six hours of debate. Saturday’s town meeting was a much quieter affair.

“No questions? No comments?” Pembroke’s longtime moderator Tom Petit asked a crowd of roughly 200 in the Pembroke Academy auditorium, on the subject of the town’s proposed $8.5 million operating budget. There were none. The article passed from the floor.

After a budget shortfall in the schools and town-wide reassessment spiked taxes this year, the past five months have been tumultuous in Pembroke. But things appeared to wind down Saturday, with residents easily giving the thumbs up to all but one petitioned warrant article. Keno was among the measures approved – by secret ballot, residents voted 147-19 to allow the gambling game in Pembroke bars.

Budget committee chairman Mark LePage told residents that between rising spending and rising revenues, the net amount to be raised by taxes next year for the town’s budget was up just $25,000.

“So basically a flat budget, overall,” he said.

The total tax rate in Pembroke next year – with town, schools and county combined – is projected to be $28.87 per $1,000 in assessed property value, an 89 cent decrease from last year. That’s about $222 less on a $250,000 home. That’s mostly because of steep cuts to the school budget – on the town side, the tax rate will go up 4 cents.

The item that may have generated the most discussion was a petitioned article to use $3,600 to install a system for live-streaming public meetings online. A basically verbatim article passed last Saturday during the school district’s meeting and Steve Donovan, the article’s petitioner, suggested amending the item to lower spending down to $600 or $1,200, assuming the school and select board could get a joint deal.

The idea got pushback from budget committee members, who warned it could complicate instead of simplify things, since the two town bodies are separate legal entities.

“I trust these people. If they can do it for 600 bucks, or $1,200, they’ll do it, okay? They don’t have to spend the full $3,600. But leave the article alone,” said budget committee vice chairman Gerry Fleury.

After a protracted back-and-forth with Petit over procedure, Donovan agreed to withdraw the amendment.

“You want to pull the amendment down? Okay. The amendment does not exist,” Petit eventually said, to laughs and scattered applause from the crowd. The article itself easily passed from the floor.

Voters also approved, 159-12, a $1.2 million bond to pay for major road reconstruction on Upper Beacon Hill, East Meadow and East View. Town officials said the three roads had long been on the town’s list of streets to fix, and that the bond would be paid out of the town’s existing budget, without having to raise additional taxes.

Brian Seaworth, a budget committee member, joked that a resident had attended a select board meeting with a chunk of roadway in tow in order to show how bad the problem was.

Sharon Morris, a resident of East Meadow Lane, told the crowd her road was in such rough shape that large swaths of it were mostly dirt.

“My road is not passable. There are potholes – I’ve got a Mini Cooper – you just can’t. You have to go over onto the dirt to get around some of the potholes,” she said. “The road is about the same quality as the Range roads. And people live on it.”

In three separate articles, residents approved spending from those capital funds, including $14,000 for a snow blower, $4,709 for a box plow and $45,859 for a new police cruiser.

Pembroke police Chief Dwayne Gilman said the police cruiser wasn’t typically so expensive. The police are planning to replace a 2010 Ford Explorer with more than 100,000 miles on it he said, which is the only vehicle the department has that can tow trailers.

“Believe me, I’m not trying to have you guys pay any more than you do now. So I do need this vehicle,” he said.

Residents also agreed to retire the Soucook Tax Increment Financing District. The TIF district was put in place in 2005 at town meeting. It set aside 35 percent of commercial property taxes raised in the district – the area around the intersection of Routes 3 and 106 – for economic development infrastructure. The town’s general fund will now take on the district’s debt obligations – a roughly $3 million bond – as well as its revenues.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)